Sex, Love, and Intellectual Property
Andrew L. Huerta
She was the woman in his story. Her light grey hair, wide brimmed hat, bright yellow blouse, royal blue cotton pants, and her grabber tool. When I realized it was her, I stopped in the middle of the road. Mrs. Brickman was the elderly woman holding the grabber tool. It was a long, white aluminum tool with dark grey jaws that clicked together at the bottom. The device was engineered to tightly grab onto small items without Mrs. Brickman having to bend over or reach down into the gravel of her front yard. With her grabber tool, Mrs. Brickman was methodically, one-by-one, clearing away the long yellow seed pods that fell from her mesquite tree. With a black bucket at her side, I watched her as she stood in one position and picked up one seed pod after the other. Individually she carefully placed them into her plastic bucket and used the tool to reach back down for another. Without bending or turning, she meticulously worked her way through a small section of the yard. As I stood there watching her, I noticed a completely clean section of the gravel. It appeared as if she had cleared away a fourth of the seed pods that covered the ground underneath the tree. I had no idea how long it had taken her to clear away this section, but I was amazed at how patiently she went about her work.
Mrs. Brickman was a neighbor. She lived about a block away from my condo. I had only met her once, over five years ago, at a neighborhood watch meeting. A few of the houses in our neighborhood had been robbed and we all came together, one time, to see what we could do. Back then Mrs. Brickman was quiet, sweet, and very old. But now she was even older; probably in her early 90’s. And she seemed to be the kind of woman who wanted to stay active and keep her mind as sharp as possible.
I had never seen her out in her front yard before, clearing away the yellow seed pods with her long grabber tool. That’s why seeing her today, during my morning walk, had come as such a shock. Tom had used her, or carefully described this image of her, in one of his short stories. A story he had written over five years ago, and one that stood out in his collection. A collection of short stories that now needs to find a publisher but lays dormant on my dining room table in a large, manila envelope.
Tom Horne worked for the University of Arizona when I met him ten years ago. He was cerebral, introverted, and a hell of a lot of fun. He looked like the actor Edward Norton. Actually, he looked like Ed Norton in the film American History X. Not as young, and thin, and in shape, but pretty damn close. We met at an outreach event that was sponsored by Tom’s job. Tom was an admissions counselor at U of A and the event included high school students from South Tucson. At the time, I was a new employee in U of A’s College of Medicine and I had my own browsing table at the event. I spoke to students and parents about careers in the health professions and about our health related majors at U of A. Tom was essentially in charge of the event and I noticed him looking at me the moment I set up my table. He never introduced himself to me. I just remember him coming over and asking me how everything was going. We talked for less than a minute and before he left, he put his hand on my right shoulder, squeezed it slightly, and walked away. I had to leave my table, unattended, and find the closest bathroom. I wiped my face down with cold water. I was anxious and excited, and I had never experienced anything like that before. When he put his hand on me, I saw our future together. I knew it wouldn’t be a long term relationship. It would be shallow and sexual. And I knew we’d never buy his and his matching BMW’s and settle down in the suburbs of southern Arizona. All I knew was that I wanted to move forward with whatever was going to happen between us. And then see where I was in life.
After seeing each other again at various U of A events, Tom asked me out. We went to a house party for one of his friend’s birthdays, but left early. We ended up at the gay bar on 4th Ave. It was still early in the evening and we were the only couple sitting together at the outside bar on the back patio. Tom was talkative but cautious. I could tell that he wanted to touch me, or reach out and hold my hand, but he kept leaning back in his chair and sitting on his right hand. At the time I was just starting my doctoral work in U of A’s College of Education. I was a part-time student at night and worked full-time during the day in the College of Medicine. Tom, on the other hand, had just finished his MFA in Creative Writing. He had taught at the University while working on his degree but now worked full-time as an admissions counselor. He liked working with students and kept an early work schedule so that he could write well into the evenings.
“So are you working on anything right now? A novel or play? I’m not sure what you write.” We both ordered beer and I turned my chair toward him.
“I’m not working on anything right now. After three years in the MFA program, I’m taking a short break from writing.”
We sat in silence for a few seconds.
“You know, when I met you.” Tom let out a short laugh. “I couldn’t figure out if you were gay or not.”
“Well…it’s hard to be obviously gay at a work event.”
“Yeah.” He let out another odd little laugh. “I don’t think it was until the third or fourth time I saw you that I decided that you might actually be gay, and possibly interested in me.”
“That first time I met you, I knew you were gay.”
“But you…you’re a hard person to read. I mean you…you’re what I’d call stoic.”
“I’ve been called a lot of things. But I’ve never been called stoic.”
“I don’t mean it as an insult.”
“And I’m not taking it as one.”
“You’re very in charge of your own little world.”
“Well…I wouldn’t call my world little, but I do like things done in a certain way. Especially when it comes to work. And you’ve really only seen me in work mode.”
“That’s why I wanted to ask you out. To get to know you better.”
“Well…what about you? You, on the other hand, you seem…I don’t know. I’d like to think of one word to describe you, but it’s just not coming.”
“So use more than one word.”
“You seem like you’re very in tune with your own observations. You know what you see, and you like to name it, or even label it.”
“I’m a writer. I love language.”
“Yeah, but I’m an educator and I love language too, but I don’t like labels.”
“So what? You want to look deeper?”
“I want to look at more than just what’s on the surface.”
We sat in silence again. Tom looked into my eyes and didn’t break away.
“Let’s get out of here,” he said.
“Okay. Let’s go,” I replied.
That night we went to my place. I live in a small two bedroom condo close to the university. It’s the kind of place where I should have a roommate, but I don’t. Tom took off my clothes and I took off his. We moved slowly at first but then began to kiss each other deeper and deeper. He moved forward and I responded. But the moment I felt myself begin to relax; the moment I began to let go and allow myself to move closer to him, he pulled away.
He made some feeble excuse, grabbed his clothes, and left my bedroom. I could hear him in the hallway, pulling on his clothes, but I just lay there in shock. When I heard the front door close behind him, I knew I was exactly where I expected to be the moment I met him. Alone. Alone, lonely, and frustrated.
Tom sent me a gutless email a few days later. I remember the title of the email was “Living Rooms”. Tom said that he wasn’t ready for where we were going that night and that we should begin a relationship by getting to know each other and staying in the living room. I, on the other hand, had no problem with where we were headed, or what we were doing. If anything I wanted to get the sex out of the way to see if the relationship had a future, or if I was just wasting my time.
Our work lives brought us together a couple more times within the next few months. And before I knew it, Tom was talking and flirting with me as if nothing had ever happened. I, on the other hand, wanted to have sex. So I asked him out to dinner. I made some smart ass comment about how we would eat a nice meal, and that the evening would only end up in the living room. But that was not the case. We did have a nice meal, at one of my favorite restaurants, and by the end of the evening we were back in my bedroom. Tom was naked in my bed, and I was on top of him. I told him there was no way he was running away from me that night.
The sex was average at first. Somewhat mechanical, very routine, and when we were done Tom always left in a rush, or hurried me out of his apartment. And for me, that was okay. I was having sex with a man I really wanted to have sex with, and it was nice. But before we knew it, we were really getting to know each other; both on an intellectual level and a physical level. So by the time I met Tom’s two best friends, and we were all hanging out together and having fun, sex with Tom had become fantastic.
We were members of a small group of friends. That’s how things operated for me and Tom. There were Tom’s two best friends, who we saw often, and eventually we added my best friend and a few other friends from the gay bars. But we were always together, with friends, in a small group. Being social is what came easy to Tom. Being liked by others is also what became important to Tom. He often did not like being alone with me; having a one-on-one conversation for him was rather boring. Possibly not enough stimulation or attention. While we did have amazing sex and I began to feel an incredible level of intimacy with him, it was always short lived. Our time together, alone, was always finite. It always came to a quick ending. So we never went away together. We never slept past 8:00 am if we spent the night at each other’s place; and we never talked about our feelings or a future together.
That’s why that one party came as such a shock to me. We were celebrating one of our friend’s birthdays at a pool party. Tom and I had been drinking a lot of beer and ended up together, alone, in the Jacuzzi. If I had thought about it, I should have known that this conversation was coming. But I never allowed myself to think about a future with Tom.
“You know it’s been two years.” Tom put down his beer and stood facing me in the middle of the Jacuzzi.
“Two years since that first night and the “Living Rooms” email?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“After that night, I didn’t think I’d ever see you again.”
“Well, two years and you haven’t been able to get rid of me.”
“I never wanted to get rid of you in the first place.”
“You’ve always been really patient with me. I like that about you.”
“I’m a teacher. If I see a challenge, I always figure out a way to overcome it.”
“As a writer, I guess I always want to deconstruct it.”
“Or label it. Call it what it is.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“Why didn’t you just move on, after that night, and leave me alone? I mean…two years ago? I always knew you didn’t want to go where we were headed.”
“I wanted to get to know you.”
“So do you think you know me now?”
“I know that I love you.”
And there we were. With those words. The words I’d wanted to hear. Tom was the first man in my openly gay life to tell me that he loved me. My first reaction was one of anger. What the fuck did he want from me? I knew he wanted me to open up to him even more, let down my guard, so that he could pull away from me again. I was dumbfounded, and I let my homosexual-self get the best of me. I stopped listening to my intuition and just let myself go.
“I love you too.”
We stopped and looked around. We were alone in the Jacuzzi at our friend’s apartment complex, and although we wanted to grab a hold of each other, we didn’t. We just picked up our beers again and moved to a couple of lounge chairs close by. Tom told me he loved me two or three more times and talked about our future together. He said he wanted to keep working at the university, eventually buy a house and raise a few kids. I just sat there and listened. I knew once I joined into the conversation it would all change. That it would not become real and he would pull away and break my heart. So I listened for as long as I could and then said, “I think it’s time that you let me read some of your stories.”
“Yeah,” he said. His eyes lost focus and he looked away.
“I know your Master’s thesis is in the library, and I can read it any time I want to. But I’d really like to read your copy or anything else you want to share with me.”
“Is that okay? Do you want me to read your work?”
“Yes. I…I do. It’s just that I’ve been working on this one story, and I don’t know if I’m ready to share it.”
“Well…I’d still like to read what you wrote in grad school. I know your thesis is a collection of about ten stories, so I’d really like to read that.”
“How do you know about my thesis?”
“I did look at it in the library one day. But I didn’t read it. I wanted to wait and see if you’d give me a copy.”
“Yeah. I have my copy. I’ll give it to you tonight, when we get home. Or maybe share with you the one story I’ve been working on. It’s not in my thesis.”
That night, when we got back to his place, we had sex all over his apartment. I remember starting off on the coffee table and ending up in the shower. At that moment in time, he was mine, and I felt that I truly belonged to him. Every time I looked into his eyes, I told him that I loved him. I held him as close as I possibly could, and he let me. By the end of the evening the word love kept flowing out of me and I could not control myself. I knew that I should stop. I knew that I should pace myself, slow my feelings down a bit, but I also felt as if I had won. I had waited. I had listened to that little voice inside of me. That voice that said to wait for him to tell you he loves you first. Wait for him to fall in love with you and then, then you can allow yourself to tell him. Tell him what you’ve felt the moment you first met him. Tell him that you love him and that you’d do anything to be with him.
As I left Tom’s apartment that next morning, he asked me to wait as he printed out a fresh copy of the story he’d been working on. Shared with me the story that he’d just completed and was now just beginning to circulate for publication. The story he called A Methodical Cleaning.
As I sat and read Tom’s short story, I wondered if I would come to understand him better. If we’d grow closer now that I was reading his work and had a better understanding of what he did and who he was. I didn’t know if the story would provide insight into Tom’s psyche, or how he thought about life. But I knew a great part of him was in that story, and that I wanted to understand the story and him as much as possible.
A Methodical Cleaning was the story of a woman who was at the end of her life. The main character, Helen, would clean her front yard with her long grabber tool. She’d use the tool to pick up the yellow seed pods that fell from her mesquite tree. Then one-by-one she’d place the pods in her black bucket. As she did so, Helen made plans for her funeral. She also planned for what would happen to all of her possessions when she was gone. Helen was not suicidal, and she was not dying of any disease. She was not a tragic figure in any sense, but a strong character who knew what she wanted and focused on her own peace of mind. Helen was a woman who knew that her life was coming to an end, and that she wanted to put everything in order before she actually left this world. So Helen spent most of the story figuring out who in her life would take care of her estate after she was gone. She worked her way through the important people in her life and ended up leaving everything to her young niece. Her niece, who was the only member of her family who was smart enough to carry out her final plans. Caring enough to respect her final wishes.
I found Tom’s writing to be plain and beautiful. While Helen was a simple character, I found the metaphor of her cleaning her front yard awe inspiring. That Helen would slowly work her way through her yard as she made plans for the final details of her long life. When I had finished the story, I read it again, and I knew that I had become even closer to Tom. That idea scared me, but I pushed through those feelings and called him and told him that I loved him.
I asked Tom for the rest of his stories but he kept putting me off. We were always on our way to spend time with friends, or we were off to yet other work event, and he never shared another story with me. Eventually, Tom stopped saying that he loved me and we stopped having sex. While I tried to coax him into saying those words, after I had said them to him so many times, but they never came again. After visualizing a future of fighting and more and more frustration, I told Tom that we should stop seeing each other. He had no problem with that. I had gathered a few of his things in a small pile and placed my copy of his short story at the bottom. The pile sat on my coffee table in front of him as he agreed to end our relationship. Then, after a moment of silence, he picked up his stuff and he was gone.
Six months later, I found out that Tom had married an older man. They had met, fallen in love, and gotten married in Vermont, where gay marriage had just been legalized. It was awful and painful, and I kept wondering why it hadn’t been me. My main frustration with my relationship with Tom was that I should have known better. Every ounce of my being, at that time, told me not to fall in love with him. Not to move too quickly and open myself up to someone new. And to listen to that little voice in my head that told me that he would eventually break my heart. And I was right. If I had listened to my intuition, which I often do in my life, I would not have gone through that experience. I would not have been left wondering why he could not commit himself to me, and why I wasn’t the one traveling to Vermont to marry a man who loved me. I was also left wondering if Tom really loved me and if two men could really love each other enough to make a lasting commitment.
After three more years I received a phone call that yet again changed my life. Tom’s best friend, who I hadn’t spoken to in forever, called me to tell me that Tom had been killed by a drunk driver. Tom was driving home from a university event, by himself, was rear-ended by a drunk driver. His car was pushed into oncoming traffic, and he was hit by another car head-on. He lived for 24 hours after the accident but died due to severe head trauma. Tom was 37 years old.
For me, I thought that was the end of my story with Tom Horne. While I grieved silently for a relationship that had ended over five years ago, I woke up one morning to see Tom’s best friend standing at my front door. In his hands was a copy of Tom’s last will and testament along with a large manila envelope filled with Tom’s short stories. While Tom had left all of his possessions and his life insurance money to his husband, he left his stories, his intellectual property to me. Inside the manila envelope were eleven short stories: the ten stories that made up Tom’s Master’s thesis and his final short story, A Methodical Cleaning.
For Tom, I was one of the people in his life who would take care of the things that mattered to him, even after he left this world. For me, I can’t even begin to explain why Tom wouldn’t leave these stories to his husband. But then again, I don’t know his husband. And I can’t even imagine when Tom wrote his will or why he thought of me as someone he could trust with his short stories. All I do know now is that Tom loved me and that he trusted me enough to continue his quest. I am now the one who will find a place to publish his collection and keep his stories alive. From my time with Tom, I have come to follow several of the literary magazines that he loved, and I know where he would have wanted to publish his work. As I read more and more of his stories, I know that they are a big part of his life and that they are something that he wanted to continue to share.
At this point, I’ve already begun to circulate his story, A Methodical Cleaning. I know it’ll take some time, but I’ll keep trying to publish his work. Publish some of his individual short stories, and then publish the entire collection as a book. I see this as my challenge now, and it’s a challenge that I know I can overcome. And when I do publish his story, A Methodical Cleaning, I’ll walk over and share it with my neighbor, Mrs. Brickman. Share with her his story of an older woman who used a grabber tool to help plan the final details of her long life. And share with her my story of a young man who was a writer and found inspiration in our neighborhood. I know Tom would’ve liked that.
Andrew L. Huerta lives in Tucson, Arizona where he has spent the past 15 years in higher education teaching/advising students who are the first in their families to attend college. After completing his MA in Creative Writing and PhD in Education, he is now in the process of completing his first two works of fiction: a collection of short stories entitled A Different Man, and a novel entitled Raggedy Anthony. His short stories have appeared in such publications as The Round Up Writer’s Zine: Pride Edition, Creating Iris, and The Storyteller. For more information please visit: www.andrewlhuerta.com.